John Oxley’s Classic Empire provided Woodbine’s leading trainer Mark Casse with a potential Kentucky Derby favourite after capturing Saturday’s Grade 2 $2-million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the 33rd Breeders’ Cup World Championships, at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.
The Kentucky-bred Pioneerof The Nile bay has won all three starts in which he’s kept the rider on his back with the lone setback coming in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga when he wheeled at the break losing rider Irad Ortiz Jr.
Casse, an eight-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s outstanding trainer, previously conditioned Classic Empire to wins in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland when ridden by Julien Leparoux.
The French-born Leparoux negotiated a prominent trip behind front-running Syndergaard in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before taking command in the stretch run and holding off the favoured Not This Time who was piloted by Robby Albarado for trainer Dale Romans.
The win marked the third Breeders’ Cup score for Casse, a perennial leading trainer at Woodbine, who won the Filly and Mare Turf last year with Catch a Glimpse and the Mile with champion mare Tepin.
“I thought at the top of the lane he was going to win easily. Then it got pretty close, but Dale (Romans) said all along it was going to be us two and it was quite a deal,” said Casse. “We got a little unlucky with Valadorna (in the Juvenile Fillies), but maybe we got lucky this time. We have a lot of wonderful people that we work for and we have a great team.
“I have been doing this 37 years and I thought his race in the Bashford Manor was as good as any two-year-old I’ve ever trained,” continued Casse. “Then with his deal in the Hopeful up at Saratoga, it makes this even a little more rewarding because it hasn’t been easy. He’ll try you.”
Classic Empire covered the mile and a sixteenth on a fast track in 1:42.60.
“He broke sharp and I put him in the race right away. He took second very nice,” said Leparoux. “I tried to open up coming to the quarter pole, which he did and held off Not This Time (second). He is a nice colt. We really love him and we knew he was going to run good, so I’m glad we got the win.”
The 55-year-old Casse had a busy Saturday at Santa Anita sending out champion mare Tepin, winner of the Ricoh Woodbine Mile in September, to finish a good second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile won by 12-1 Tourist.
Trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Joel Rosario, Tourist covered the mile on a firm turf course in 1:31.71, breaking the Breeders’ Cup record of 1:31.78 set by Wise Dan at Santa Anita in 2013. Tourist defeated the defending Breeders’ Cup Mile champion Tepin by a 1/2-length.
Casse also saddled Valadorna to a second-place run to Champagne City in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Catch a Glimpse, Canada’s reigning Horse of the Year, to an eighth-place run behind Queen’s Trust in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
Fellow Canadian Contenders
Notable Canadian content on Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup card also included a narrow loss by Wavell Avenue, bred in Ontario by Eugene Melnyk, to Finest City while trying to defend her title in the Filly and Mare Sprint; a fourth-place run in the Turf Sprint (won by Obviously) by Canadian-bred Calgary Cat, who was trained by Kevin Attard and ridden by Luis Contreras for owners Stephen Chesney and Cory S. Hoffman; and a seventh-place finish in the Sprint (won by Drefong) from Noholdingback Bear who is trained by Mike DePaulo and was ridden by Eurico Rosa da Silva for owner Bear Stables.
Ralis, owned and bred by ex-pat Canadian John Paul Reddam, finished ninth in the Turf, while Celestine, bred in Kentucky by Phoenix Rising Farms which is owned by B.C.-based Barry and Deb Holmes, landed in 12th in the Turf Sprint.
Arrogate, the three-year-old Travers winner ridden by Mike Smith, overtook 2014 Kentucky Derby champ and Horse of the Year California Chrome in the final stride to win the featured Grade 1 $6-million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Shaman Ghost, the 2015 Queen’s Plate champion owned and bred by Frank Stronach, was scratched from the Classic on the day of the race with a fever.